Monday, March 30, 2009

Part II: The New Millennium

New Years was uneventful. At a party we attended in Brooklyn the building owner shut the power off at midnight as a joke. Everyone laughed and shouted and five seconds later it was New York again.

The following week I started my first official job in the fashion industry. I began as an assistant designer for a very small cashmere knitwear company right in the heart of Midtown Manhattan.

Here are a few things to know about the fashion district and Midtown, in general: it looks, smells, and feels exactly like you imagine it will based on your perceptions from media depictions of NYC, regardless of what those perceptions are. The stories you hear about every back alley being crammed full of over sized trucks and of having to dodge men running down streets pushing rolling racks full of clothes is all true. Also, it is very likely there are parts of the pavement that have never been struck by direct sunlight.

What is the smell of Midtown Manhattan, by the way? Well in January , it's a combination of roasted nuts, hot dogs, car exhaust, dirty snow, urine, cigarette smoke, and human perspiration.

The line I worked for had a small showroom on the seventh floor somewhere on W. 37th street. There were only four of us in the office everyday; the president of the company, the showroom director, and the two designers. My first day, the president was absent, having taken a personal day; the showroom director sat in her office reading WWD; the other designer stared at her computer screen all day. I knew immediately that I hated this job.

AND NOW, peopleareobjects PROUDLY PRESENTS:

Start with a basic length, long-sleeve, crew neck fine-gauge sweater as your foundation silhouette. This is body number one.
Change the crew neck to a V-neck. Body number two.
Shorten the sleeves to 3-quarter length while keeping the crew neck. Body number three.
Shorten the sleeves to standard short-sleeve length and keep the V-neck. Call it the cashmere T-shirt. Body number four.
Change the original crew neck to a very deep V-neck, open the front and add three buttons. Now you have a basic cardigan. Body number five.
Keep the original crew neck body, open the front, add buttons down the full length, put this over a short-sleeve crew neck body. Now you have a basic twin-set. Body number six.
Change the original crew neck to a V-neck and now do it in a 2x2 rib knit. Body number seven.
Remove the sleeves entirely from your original body and scoop out the neck all around, lower in front than back. Call it the cashmere tank top. Body number eight.
Do this exact one in 2x2 rib knit. Body number nine.
Now keep going until you have at least 30 to forty different bodies to show at ENK and Intermezzo.
Offer all styles in up to 6 to 8 different colors from your seasons color chart.
Offer all styles in black and all but one or two in white.
Just for fun, add beads or sequins to one for the holiday season.

It is also important to understand that none of this is happening to any real sweater you have in front of you. No actual knitting is being done in the design office or showroom, or in New York City, for that matter. What you are doing are technical drawings of the various styles complete with specific measurements for each and every part of each design; the opening of the neck hole; the length of each sleeve; the opening of the sleeve at the wrist; the amount of ease around the waist, bust and hip; the space between each button hole; the height of the rib knit waistband and cuffs; and so forth and so on. Any special instructions are included, along with any sample trim (zippers, lingerie straps, sequins). These "spec" sheets are put together as "tech packs", translated into Chinese (or Vietnamese, Indian, etc.) and sent to the off-shore factory where the samples will be made.

Depending on the complexity of your samples and the number of children the factory employs, you can expect to receive your finished samples back in New York within a month. At this point, the samples are measured and checked against the original spec sheets to see exactly where ten-year old Suchin Lee erred when she got her finger caught in the machine. Corrections are made, angry emails and phone calls are traded, and eventually sweaters are ready to be sent off to a grateful nation.

After four months, I quit. During my tenure there I found out the other designer was a racist. She once commented that Chinese people all suffered from foul body odor and should go "back to China on the rafts they came here on." The showroom director was pregnant during this time and she continued to wear very high heels and remark to us how expensive they were. I once overheard her tell a client in the showroom, "Why would anyone ever go below 14th street?" I was already doing a solid amount of patternmaking as a freelancer, so I decided I didn't need to subject myself to such a cramped and uncomfortable environment. One day in April, I came in early, cleaned out my computer files and desk, and left a note on the presidents desk.

As I stepped out of the building into the cool Spring morning air, I felt free. I was completely unaware I had tipped over the first domino in what would prove to be a long and heavy chain of dominoes that is still falling to this day.


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